Click to view slide show of commanders in the Haqqani Network. Pictured is a composite image of Siraj Haqqani.
The US carried out the fourth airstrike in five days against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan’s lawless tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Unmanned US strike aircraft, the Predators or Reapers, struck a compound and a vehicle in the village of Danda Darpa Khel just outside of Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. Three members of the dangerous Haqqani Network were among the four terrorists killed.
“The US drone fired two missiles; one hit a compound and another, a vehicle,” a Pakistani intelligence official told AFP. ”
“Three of the militants were Afghan militants attached with the Haqqani Network,” another security official told AFP.
The target of the strike has been identified as Siraj Haqqani, the military commander of the network, but there is no evidence that he or any other senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders were killed.
“He was targeted as part of a strike, and we think he might have been hit, but I’m waiting for the DNA tests,” a Pakistani official told Newsweek. “We’ve been trying to kill him for a long time, and he’s escaped before.”
An unconfirmed report at Daily Times claimed that Mohammed Haqqani, a brother of Siraj, was among those killed in the attack.
The region is under the control of the Haqqani Network, a Taliban group led by mujahedeen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Siraj. The Haqqanis are closely allied to al Qaeda and the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar. The Haqqanis are based on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The Haqqani family runs the Manba Ulom madrassa in Danda Darpa Khel, a hub of activity for the terror group. The US has struck at targets in Danda Darpa Khel five times since Aug. 20, 2009, and seven times since September 2008.
Today’s attack is the fifth this month and the sixteenth this year. All 16 of the strikes have taken place in North Waziristan.
January 2010 had the highest monthly strike total since the program targeting Taliban and al Qaeda leaders and their network inside Pakistan’s tribal areas began in June 2004. [For up-to-date charts on the US air campaign in Pakistan, see: Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010.]
The US ramped up the attacks after an al Qaeda suicide bomber, aided by the Haqqani Network and Pakistani Taliban leader Hakeemullah Mehsud, killed seven CIA officials, including the station chief, and a Jordanian intelligence officer. The Dec. 30, 2009, attack was carried out by a Jordanian al Qaeda operative and double agent at Combat Outpost Chapman in Afghanistan’s Khost province. The al Qaeda suicide bomber lured CIA officials by claiming to have information that would lead to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command.
Since the Dec. 30 suicide attack, the US has been hunting Hakeemullah, who appeared with the Jordanian suicide bomber on a martyrdom tape that was released shortly after the attack. Hakeemullah was rumored to have died on three separate occasions after being targeted in a Jan. 14 strike. The Taliban have denied he is dead and have claimed that a tape confirming he is alive will be released soon.
The attacks tapered off in mid-January, but appear to be on the rise again. In the 20 days between Dec. 31, 2009, and Jan 19, 2010, the US had launched 11 airstrikes against Taliban and al Qaeda bases in Pakistan. In the 30 days between Jan. 20, 2010, and Feb. 17, 2010, there have been only six airstrikes in Pakistan, but four of those have taken place in the past four days.
Background on Danda Darpa Khel and the Haqqani Network
The Manba Ulom madrassa was established by Jalaluddin Haqqani, the renowned mujahedeen commander who has close ties with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. In the 1980s, the madrassa was used to train mujahedeen to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Haqqani family used the Manba Ulom madrassa as a training center and meeting place for senior al Qaeda leaders.
The Pakistani government closed the madrassa down in 2002, but it was reopened in 2004. Since then, Taliban fighters and members of al Qaeda’s network have been known to take shelter in the madrassa compound.
The madrassa serves as the headquarters for the Haqqani Network, while the network’s forward operating command center in Afghanistan is located in the village of Zambar in the northern Sabari district of Khost province, Afghanistan. The network is active in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Logar, Wardak, and Kabul, and provides support to Taliban networks in Kunar, Nangarhar, Helmand, and Kandahar provinces.
The Haqqanis have extensive links with al Qaeda and with Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. These relationships have allowed the Haqqani Network to survive and thrive in North Waziristan. The Haqqanis control large swaths of North Waziristan, and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces.
Siraj Haqqani, a son of Jalaluddin, has risen in prominence over the past few years. He is believed to be the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan and to be the senior military commander in eastern Afghanistan. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan.
Siraj is considered dangerous not only for his ties with the Afghan Taliban, but also because of his connections with al Qaeda’s central leadership, which extend all the way to Osama bin Laden. On March 25, 2009, the US Department of State put out a $5 million bounty for information leading to the capture of Siraj.